My day: Busker Daniel Ng

Daniel Ng

Daniel Ng, 54, works as a busker in Singapore, performing in the city's food courts and high streets every evening. He has been blind since birth.

I started busking in 1999 and never really looked back.

Previously I had worked in a government call centre for 18 long years. I got burned out, and technology was overriding the human voice, so I started thinking that maybe I could meet more people and share my music on the streets.

At that time I was worried about busking as a livelihood, but overall Singaporeans are pretty compassionate people.

I wouldn't say we make big money or anything, but we make just enough to get by.

My day starts at around 07:00 or 08:00 every morning. I normally go to the local food court for breakfast - a bowl of noodles, a bit of carrot cake [a savoury omelette-like dish with radish], or Nasi Lemak, a coconut rice with a bit of fish, egg and chilli.

Once in a while, if I feel like having a Western set, I go to McDonald's for a big breakfast.

My day, my life

Clockwise from left: busker, maternity nurse, tug master, cosmetic surgeon, croupier, teacher

An insight into the lives of people around the region

When I'm finished, I go home and listen to the news on radio and TV.

Then I'll start going through some songs, just to run through what I think I might sing about in the evening.

I spend a lot of time learning new songs. It's a problem for me and other blind buskers, because we can't see.

While most people would be able to read the lyrics in front of them, we have to memorise verse for verse by listening to the song several times, to work out which chords to use and how many bridges and choruses there are.

I like to say that my work really happens at home. When I go out and sing in the evenings, it's really the final product of all the hard work.

I learn lots of different songs because I get all types of song requests - I sing songs in English, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkein, Thai and Indian Tamil.

Daniel Ng

  • Works as a busker in Singapore's food courts
  • Grew up in one of Singapore's kampongs (villages) in the 1960s
  • Worked at a government call centre for 18 years
  • Now 54, he started busking in 1999
  • Sings songs in English, Malay, Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkein, Thai, Indian Tamil and Japanese

It's interesting because you learn to develop a more and more international flavour. I've even learnt some Japanese songs.

A lot of people are crazy about Korean pop, so I'm trying to learn Korean songs right now, although the syllables are quite hard to follow. Psy's Gangnam Style goes so fast I'm not sure what he's saying!

To be honest, although I'm [ethnic] Chinese, my Mandarin isn't that good. This is because I learned Malay as my second language at school in the 1960s.

This happened because they didn't have a Chinese Braille - the Braille was only in English letters. So we were taught Malay instead. We felt a bit apprehensive at the time, but it's been useful because I can sing Malay songs now.

Fast numbers

I have lunch in the afternoon, and sometimes catch up with friends or have a coffee.

I get on the train at around 16:00 in the afternoon to head to wherever I'm busking for the evening.

To be a busker in Singapore, you need to audition with the National Arts Council, and get a yearly licence.

Daniel Ng

There are restrictions - you can designate up to five places to perform in, but you can only play in those five places.

I think that's a little restrictive. I was hoping they'd let everybody have a free flow of artistic expression, but I suppose they have their reasons.

It's a shame that we can't perform at the train stations. They are now capitalising on the concourse spaces, setting up lots of shops and eateries, so when we perform there, sometimes they'd just chase us out.

They tell us it's because it's commercial property. That's the ugly side of capitalism I suppose.

I think they should be more understanding - we're not encroaching on shops, we're just trying to add some life.

When I'm busking, people tend to like fast numbers, maybe because the fast pace makes them happy.

Sometimes they like slower ballads though - people will come to me and request love songs when they're sitting with loved ones.

When I'm performing, sometimes I'll come up with lyrics off the cuff. Some listeners like to hear me sing about food, or old memories of Singapore.

When I grew up in a kampong [a village] in the 60s, it was really backwards. We were rearing pigs, chickens and ducks - it was very serene, you could hear birds and bees, and once in a while a chicken crowing.

I lived through that period very briefly, and then the next thing I knew, Singapore became a massive concrete jungle, and we had to move to an HDB [a government flat]. It was a very vivid change - Singapore has come so far.

I normally finish busking at around 22:00 or so. I'll go home before having my dinner. Sometimes, if it's a bit too late, I'll just drink a Milo, or have some sort of cereal.

If I can't sleep, I'll turn on the radio and listen to the news again.

Daniel Ng was talking to the BBC's Helier Cheung in Singapore.

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